Haines Assemblyman George Campbell alleged this week that borough assembly members failed in their responsibility to uphold transparency by violating the Open Meetings Act. Last month, assembly members visited with representatives from the executive search firm hired to find the next manager and police chief, to offer suggestions on what qualities the members want, and to help come up with the subsequent community profile. Campbell said the violation happened because those meetings weren’t discussed in public.
In a letter sent to the assembly and manager, Campbell said he had concerns that members’ actions, and inactions, compromise trust and did not reflect what’s in the best interest of the community.
Last month, representatives from Brimeyer Fursman traveled to Haines to meet with assembly members, local committee chairs, and members of the public. Residents were also encouraged to fill out surveys outlining qualities they would like to see in the borough’s next manager and police chief. Richard Fursman met with all the assembly members individually, with the exception of Ron Jackson, who was out of town but supplied a written survey, and Campbell, who declined to meet with Fursman.
Before that, however, the assembly did approve a contract for Brimeyer Fursman outlining that the meetings with assembly members would take place, and from that, the company would come up with a community profile and advertisement for the positions. Campbell says that not discussing the findings from those meetings in public is a violation. Here’s Campbell:
“All we approved were specifically, the salary range and the dates, but yet there was all this other information from the discussions that was made,” he said. “So, I submit that we are in violation of the Open Meetings Act through a serial meeting, so we really should have a public meeting about this.”
The Act defines a meeting as: “a gathering of members of a governmental body when . . . more than three members or a majority of the members, whichever is less, are present, [and] a matter upon which the governmental body is empowered to act is considered by the members collectively . . .”
Interim manager Brad Ryan said he has been in contact several times with the borough attorney about the matter.
“Having more than three assembly members talk to them in private could be a problem, and the solution to the problem was to discuss any decision that was influenced by that in public, which we did at an assembly meeting,” Ryan said. “Brooks went back and reviewed the minutes from the meeting and said this seemed appropriate to fix any violation that was perceived.”
The Act also states that a governmental body that violates or is alleged to have violated that section of the act, may fix the violation by holding another meeting in compliance with the public notice aspect to discuss the matter.
But Campbell insisted that remedy wasn’t good enough because, while the assembly did discuss it at the last assembly meeting, it was not on the agenda and therefore doesn’t qualify as publicly advertised.
Assembly member Diana Lapham said the whole issue was being blown out of proportion, while Assemblywoman Margaret Friedenauer fired back at Campbell with this:
“What I don’t think is being considered and remembered is that we approved a contract for services with Fursman,” she said. “In that contract, if we read it, it says that they will conduct community surveys, community input forms, talk to stakeholders and they will develop a community profile and advertise. It didn’t need our approval. Everything that they did was in the contract that they did approve.”
Ryan said after getting guidance from the borough’s legal counsel, he now considers the matter closed.